Color the dome of St. Peter's purple -- for the penance the Vatican needs to perform after the praises and honors it shamelessly heaped on Kurt Waldheim.

Pope John Paul II put on the papal ritz for the Austrian president with a Nazi past. The visit to the Vatican peaked with the pope's honoring Waldheim as a humanitarian ''devoted to securing peace.''

John Paul is the spiritual leader who ordered his clergy out of politics. He appears to have given himself a papal dispensation. A Vatican bent on justifying the unjustifiable explained that the ceremonies for an ex- and unrepentant Nazi were a necessary function of the church's head of state maintaining relations with other heads of state.

Jewish leaders offended by this unholy alliance between Waldheim and John Paul were right to protest. Demonstrators in St. Peter's square, wearing the striped prison clothes of the death camps, reminded the world, and the insensitive Vatican, that the affront of the Waldheim visit was another degradation inflicted by Catholic leaders on Jews.

Historically, the church has had popes whose rabid anti-Semitism created the conditions for persecutions from the medieval pogroms to this century's Holocaust. The 13th century had Pope Innocent III: ''Jews, like the fratricide Cain, are doomed to wander about the earth as fugitives and vagabonds, and their faces must be covered with shame.'' Two hundred years later came Eugenius IV: ''We decree and order that from now on, and for all time, Christians shall not eat or drink with Jews, nor admit them to feasts, nor cohabit with them, nor bathe with them.'' The 16th century had the Medici, Pius IV, who ordered to ''depart completely'' every ''Jew of both sexes in our temporal domain.''

Pope John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962, a three-year overhaul that Charles de Gaulle called ''the greatest event of the 20th century,'' sought to cleanse the church of its hatreds. Jews, he said in 1943, ''are the relatives and fellow countrymen of Jesus.''

The future pope at the time was Bishop Angelo Roncalli, a papal nuncio in Istanbul. Turkey, still neutral, was on the escape route to Palestine from Nazi-controlled Europe. In union with the Jerusalem Jewish Agency and after meetings with the Grand Rabbi of Jerusalem, Roncalli was credited with saving the lives of 24,000 Jews.

That was one reason why, as the pope in October 1960, he met with 130 American Jews led by Rabbi Herbert Friedman. The distinction between the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, John said, ''does not abolish the brotherhood that comes from a common origin. We are all sons of the same Father. We come from the Father, and must return to the Father.'' A biographer said that John XXIII's ''wartime experiences in Istanbul proved that these were not empty formulas.''

The current pope, a hardheaded authoritarian, has been undoing many of the theological reforms begun by Pope John and Vatican II. He silences theologians and dismisses women's requests for ordination as irrelevant. In that context, why shouldn't he also harm Jewish-Christian relations, as the Waldheim visit brazenly did?

Many Catholics are as ashamed of this latest breach as Jews are angry. Unlike the latter, upset Catholics have a way of giving the Holy Father an unangelic jolt. It is a boycott of ''Peter's Pence,'' the annual worldwide collection of money that goes directly to the Vatican. An estimated $26 million came in last year, about half from American Catholics. The next pence for Peter -- the first pope -- is scheduled during masses this weekend.

A Catholic group in Chicago, Call to Action, has the sensible idea that the faithful who want more than secrecy and negativity from Rome contribute their money to other charities, such as ''Mary's Pence.'' This is a Chicago foundation working to give women equality in the church.

The embrace of Waldheim by the Vatican mocks the call of Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin for Catholics to dig deep for Peter's Pence -- ''to contribute generously to the spiritual and humanitarian leadership'' shown by John Paul II. What leadership? Telling the world an ex-Nazi is a peacemaker?